In the hope of making her travel meaningful and making a difference, Serena chose the perfect project in Fiji to make this happen. Here's how she got on with Fiji Teaching.
1 – Why did you choose this project?
I chose this project because I wanted to really do something worthwhile whilst on my gap year. There were a lot of different projects to choose from, and I speculated over doing journalism or marine conservation first, however I thought teaching younger children would be rewarding and fun and would really give me new perspectives on education around the world. It allowed me to immerse myself into a new culture and I feel as though I am able to continue to university with a fresh and new perspective to bring to the classroom.
2 – How did the culture and people differ to home, and what were the locals like?
Everything is incredibly different in Fiji that it is to my hometown, London. So there’s this concept called ‘Fiji Time’ and essentially it’s all about everything being done at an excruciatingly relaxed pace. As a city gal, I come from somewhere in which everything is incredibly punctual, fast paced and scheduled; so coming to Fiji and experiencing such a relaxed atmosphere really threw me. Perhaps if you’re a tourist on one of the beautiful islands wishing your days would go by slower, this is incredibly ideal, but when you’re living in the city and working, it has its downfalls! It took me a while to come to realization that this is their culture and I’ve really just got to adapt to it whether I like it or not! The locals are incredibly friendly and Fiji’s reputation about being one of the happiest places on earth isn’t a lie. Friendly locals will almost always greet you with a “Bula!” as you walk down the street and always seem to have a smile on their face.
3 – What was the accommodation like?
I feel like the homestay was the real challenge, though I wouldn’t change it for the world. We stayed with the most amazing family whose welcoming arms never failed. Everything was incredibly basic and the difference to home is just incomparable but once you get over the initial culture shock, it all becomes quite cozy. On your first day, you are taken on a city tour to collect some kava to present. In the evening, the family holds a kava ceremony to welcome you as part of their family. The head of the house, Master, talks to the new volunteers about allowing us to ‘park our canoes’ in the harbor and live with them for as long as we want. It’s a myriad of metaphors but it really is touching. I’ve honestly never felt so welcome to a complete strangers house! I really thought I’d be tiptoeing around but that was never the case. The children often knock on our door as ask us to come outside and play with them and we even all worked together to save the life of a little bird that had fallen from a tree. They really did become like our own brothers and sisters. On your last day, you are given a Farewell ceremony. Master and the family never say goodbye, it’s always a Sota Tale (see you soon). Things do get rather emotional because after living with this family for months, you now have to say goodbye. You again present a bag of kava and Master tells you that you much to his dismay, you are now allowed to lift the anchor of your canoe and sail back home.
4 – What were the volunteers like?
I can definitely say I’ve made some amazing friends that I’m sure will stick around throughout my life. We all got on so well and you end up feeling like you’ve known them for a lot longer than the duration of your trip! People who have travelled during their gap year always mention the amazing friends they made, and I can really vouch for that entirely. Got some fab summer plans for when everyone gets back home! Shout out to Suva Squad!
5 – What were you hoping to learn while on project, and have you achieved those goals?
Despite the fact our homestay family had very little, it did not falter their happiness. They’d make the best out of each situation. It’s very cliché, and it’s cliché for a reason, but it made me so grateful for everything I have. It opened my eyes to a complete new world, a totally new way of living and that it really isn’t the end of the world if something trivial upsets me. It was most definitely a reality check for me and their happiness is incredibly infectious. I wanted to experience life away from home, somewhere in my wildest dreams and I did just that. Goal achieved ✓
6 – What sort of wildlife did you encounter?
Nothing terribly exciting apart from mosquitoes that literally eat you alive. They seem to be immune to deet. However, when on a boat travelling to one of the islands, I spotted some jellyfish and the captain of the boat just scooped one out of the sea with absolutely no hesitation. I’m absolutely terrified of jellyfish and they’re my worst nightmare, but I gave it a poke and felt like I’d definitely accomplished something. (For the record, it was a type of jellyfish that doesn’t sting, boring I know).
7 – Any advice for future volunteers?
I made the mistake of bringing along loads of toiletries with me that I thought I’d have zero access to in Fiji, however I could’ve saved myself a lot of space if I had known that there’s a huge mall five minutes away by taxi from our homestay. Massive supermarket that supplies everything from toiletries to food, so it really isn’t essential to bring that all along with you if you’re staying in Suva! Everything is readily accessible because you’re living in the capital city, it’s very built up and there’s even a Nandos (cheeky).
If you’re a volunteer who’s looking for something really gritty and rural, I’d suggest doing the marine conservation project in Fiji. We spent a weekend there and it was an entirely different experience to living in the city. You cook for yourselves, there’s no electricity/wifi and you live in the middle of a forest . Supplies and food are brought over weekly from the boat that comes from the mainland and it’s all very gap yah. It was great to experience it but it definitely wasn’t for me! Also, be very wary of the fact it rains a lot in Fiji- so bring along a raincoat and maybe even a small umbrella.
8 – What do you have planned next?
Next up is university to study English Literature. And no, I do not want to be a teacher.
9 – Anything else you’d like to add?
I truly believe travelling makes you more of a well-rounded person. Life is a book; and those who do not travel only read one page, right? There is another world out there to discover at your disposal. So if you can, definitely go for it! You’ll learn things you can’t learn at home and you’ll teach people things they cant learn there. It’s a give and take relationship. You are so valued as a volunteer and in return, you get this amazing experience, you meet new people, you learn new things and you learn to grow and thrive. It really is a phenomenal experience, a life lesson that you can’t get in the comfort of your own home.